Before making beer in Palm Beach, Mike Halker served on a bomb squad with the U.S. Army. That cool under pressure has served him well as the founder and head of Due South Brewery, a craft-beer company based in Boynton Beach.
Started in 2012, the brewery will be doubling its production to 6,000 barrels this year, Halker says. The brewery was recently named the best large brewery in the annual Best of Florida Beer Competition.
What was your first job?
When I was a kid in rural Ohio, I told my dad I wanted a new bike and he said, ”That’s a great idea!” We got in the truck, and he drove me down to a local farm and told the farmer what I’d said.
After that, I reported to the farmer every day at 4:30 a.m. to bale hay and work cattle until the school bus showed up. I think I was 8 years old.
I learned quickly that we receive what we earn, and if I didn’t accomplish something I only had one person to blame. Taking responsibility is everything.
What's the best career advice you've ever received?
I’ve been fortunate enough to receive quite a bit of great advice. But one thing that always sticks in my head is something Barry Frankel -- a volunteer business counselor at the U.S. Small Business Administration -- said to me when I was in the planning stages for Due South.
One day I came in and told him I wasn’t sure what to do next. He told me to keep doing what I was doing. I wondered if he’d heard me. I reiterated. So did he. I went home and considered why I didn’t have a brewery yet. Then I figured out the next step.
Barry didn’t literally know what my next move was but he was confident I’d figure it out. Whenever I feel like I’m stuck or unsure, I just keep doing what I’m doing. We just won the best large brewery in Florida award so it appears to be working.
What do you look for when you hire?
Attitude. I can teach anyone anything. If you show up on time, work hard and believe in what we’re doing, you’ll make it. Most of the guys at our brewery have learned from what I’ve taught them. They weren’t brewery people but they were as passionate as I was about Due South. Their willingness to do whatever it takes keeps Due South at the top.
What's your favorite job interview question to ask and why?
I like to ask someone what I can do right now to make Due South better. If they can answer the question, it shows not only the ability to think on their feet but also at least some sort of preparation. It shows they’ve considered a future on our team.
What's the biggest misconception about the business climate in South Florida?
I think many people believe South Florida is only hair salons, hospitals and retirees. They don’t realize it’s one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet. We have a culmination of all of these people working and consuming together. The local governments I’ve dealt with are very business-focused: They understand growth requires planning and incentives, and they’re embracing this diversity and changing the rules. It’s working very well for the ones that are pliable.